BOZEMAN — During the first week of fall camp at Montana State, while all the attention was on quarterback Dakota Prukop, new defensive play-caller Kane Ioane and a bevy of impact transfers, place-kicker Luke Daly quietly and meticulously worked through his routine.
Daly drilled a couple kicks, then pushed one wide, hit a couple more, then shanked one the other way. It seemed a lot like last season, when Daly set an MSU freshman record by making 13 field goals but at the same time struggled with consistency from anything beyond 40 yards.
The Billings Central High School product worked diligently in the offseason, but as a result of over-kicking developed tendinitis in his right leg. He’s now just getting back into his routine after taking three weeks off.
Early in camp, after working on drills with long-snapper Rocky Hogue and holders Mitch Griebel and Tanner Roderick, Daly gave an honest assessment of his freshman season while looking ahead to 2015.
“I had an average year,” he said. “Granted I was a freshman and I can play that card, but I had an average year. There’s a lot to improve on. I did like that I was accurate under 40 yards but this year the goal is to be accurate beyond 40 and start to be more consistent with 50-yarders.”
Nobody notices a kicker until he misses, and Daly wants to fly under that radar. But he said his power and consistency are better than they were last year, and it has gained some attention.
“I would definitely say that from 50 to 55 yards, this summer it’s been pretty consistent,” he said.
Daly has had his ups and downs. He pointed to a game last Oct. 18 against Weber State in which he was wide left on field goal tries of 40 and 50 yards in the first half and later missed a point-after attempt in the fourth quarter.
But when it mattered most, Daly made a crucial 25-yard field goal to put the Bobcats ahead by 10 points and seal the game with about two minutes left.
“It just got into my head,” Daly said. “That was a situation where I had to park those earlier kicks and get on to the next one.”
A lot has happened since last season, and Daly has admittedly done a lot of growing up.
Now the father of a 5-month-old son named Ryker, Daly sees more value in everyday life and feels less weight on his shoulders when it comes to being a college kicker.
“That’s been a blessing in so many ways,” said Daly, who turns 21 on Aug. 24. “Having a son at this age helps me focus. I know I don’t need to stress about the next kick or stress myself out about the little things, because there’s bigger things in life at the end of the day.
“I think it’s just helping me become more mentally sound. It’s helped me mature and grow up a lot more. Hopefully I can use that and transition it to the football season.”
Ninth-year Bobcats coach Rob Ash has mentored his share of quality kickers through the years, including one of the best-ever at MSU in Jason Cunningham, and NFL kicker Billy Cundiff, who kicked under Ash at Drake.
Ash is slow to evaluate Daly this early in camp because most of his kicks have come on the grass at Dyche Field and not on the familiar synthetic turf at Bobcat Stadium. But Ash has noticed some not-so-subtle differences in Daly’s attitude.
“I will say that his mental reaction to a miss has been much more mature than in the past,” Ash said. “I really like that. And that’s what we talked about, to not worry so much about the kick but let’s worry about your reaction to the kick and see if we can practice that.
“Physically he’s much stronger, too. The elevation he’s getting on his kicks right now is phenomenal. Once we get him on the turf I think he’ll be great.”
NOTES: After taking Sunday off, the Bobcats return to practice Monday for their second two-a-day session. The team will run drills at 9:15 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. ... MSU's annual Media Day is Thursday at 10 a.m. at Bobcat Stadium. ... The Bobcats will hold their second and final scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday. Classes begin next Monday.